By Allyson Bills
Out with the old and in with the new is the case with L.A.’s Magic Wands’ sophomore effort Jupiter, released on Cleopatra Records, which abandons their electronic sensibilities and forays into the world of shoe gaze. Magic Wands’ new sound is the result of adding two new, permanent members to the mix: Tommy Alexander on bass and Keith Crutchfield on drums to complement the two founding members, vocalists and guitarists Chris and Dexy Valentine who met on none other than My Space. Jupiter, the follow up to Magic Wands’ 2012 debut full-length Aloha Moon, was entirely self-produced, and according to a recent press release, includes “first takes on drums, guitars and bass.” In a recent article with Interview Magazine, Dexy explains the title of the album derived from the concept that “the album is its own planet and the songs surrounding it.” I found this to be relevant while listening to Jupiter, and not in a positive way.
Jupiter begins with its title track, which isn’t common with album sequencing. Obviously, Magic Wands means business; unfortunately, they are literally on another planet. The song “Jupiter” is promising at the start with what sounds like a drum circle, which actually reminded me of listening to metal veterans Neurosis’ Times of Grace. At this point, I thought that I was in for a treat! But low-and-behold, my hopes were dashed during the song with the less-than-stellar lyrical content of the repeating lines of “Don’t just say you are ready.” Sometimes the problem with shoegaze bands is that they fail to figure out the balance between painting both a lyrical and sonically-sound picture. “Jupiter” could have been a fabulous opening to the album, but Magic Wands fail to develop this song to its full potential. I would have like to see the song have a legitimate, instrumental ending, and not the abrupt one that is presented on this track.
Magic Wands goes full-on 1980’s pop era with “Love Soldier,” which is very reminiscent of Blondie. It’s an upbeat number with soaring harmonies, and actually one of the more well-crafted songs off Jupiter. Based on the sound of “Love Soldier,” you would think that it’s a song about the 1980’s. However don’t let the sound fool you because it’s song about the “glory days” of the 1960’s; that is, if you consider that decade to be super drug-induced. Apparently, Magic Wands views the 1960’s as such, which is evident with the lyrics “Looking for those days in magic skies // Flowers in my hair // High on LSD // I remember the day.” Clocking in at 6:15 minutes, the fluidity, tempo changes and thumping bass lines makes “Love Soldier” one of the rare gems on Jupiter.
In “Lazerbitch,” Magic Wands channels Metric’s critically-acclaimed album Fantasies to the point that it’s not even funny. Even Dexy’s voice sounds exactly like Emily Haines’ in some parts of the song; it’s scary, actually. Unlike Metric, who has the ability to write catchy synth-pop tunes, Magic Wands is nowhere near this league and probably should have done more takes with this song. The length of “Lazerbitch” is 4:29, but it actually “ends” at 3:09, as it should, but there’s a pause and then song bursts on for a good minute-plus before ending. Throughout “Lazerbitch,” it appears that Dexy yearns to find that sexy edge, but isn’t quite sure how to do it on her own. Also, writing a song about synthetic drugs is pretty disturbing. I can’t imagine that that I would be inspired by “get a synthetic high in your head when you take off.”
If Jupiter isn’t all over the board as it is right now, then you have Magic Wands channeling their inner goth child with “Chariot.” Like “Lazerbitch,” Magic Wands continues to be Metric wannabes, but with a goth twist. To Magic Wands’ credit, the rhythm section is the highlight of this track. The band also channels Metric by creating a fantasy vibe even in the lyrics: “Reveal your secrets // I’m a priestess // A dream you can’t wait for.” Besides the stellar rhythm section, there is no really no substance to “Chariot.” It appears that Magic Wands has issues figuring out musical identity.
Listening to the lyrics of “Dream Street” is no dream: “He drowns in the water // He slips on the ice // She sets him on fire // She opens his eyes.” Also, the “hoot” before Dexy sings the line “dream street” makes the song extra annoying. Musically, Magic Wands attempts to achieve 1980’s dark wave sound, with the introduction sounding like Depeche Mode. The swirling guitars and subdued drums add to the imagery of the dream. However, the vocals are rushed and the song abrasively ends without notice. It would have been nice to see this “Dream Street” flow near the end and create closure.
Perhaps one the few highlights off Jupiter is “Himalaya.” The guitars at the beginning make it feel like you are floating. It’s a pleasant surprise, given the inconsistencies of the rest of the album. You can tell they really love Ride and Slowdive, especially in their guitar licks and steady drumming. Dexy’s amazing voice hasn’t been highlighted to its full potential on Jupiter, and she finally has a chance on “Himalaya.” The multiple vocals in the chorus line “I sell my dreams” give “Himalaya” texture to an otherwise even-tempoed track.
It’s a shame that Magic Wands doesn’t carry the magic from “Himalaya” into “Blue Wall,” because this track is nothing short of a hot mess. The lyrics are beyond corny that I can’t even. There is no way that I can take any of these lyrics seriously: “In another world they call me the Blue Girl…On the blue wall in the center of it all.” Sometimes, this is good idea for an outside voice to step in and give feedback. To add insult to injury, Dexy raps in the three-minute mark of the song: “I cross my heart and hope to die // I will never let you steal my blood.” These lyrics definitely need work in order to convey the idea of the “Blue Wall” in a cohesive manner. I don’t understand how someone can write such a terrible song.
“I’ll Never Go There Again” actually piqued my interest. Sadly, I had to listen to a few duds in order to find this hidden gem. The favorable tracks off Jupiter happen to be the ones where Dexy’s voice has the opportunity to shine; “I’ll Never Go There Again” is one of those tracks. Her vocal styling reminds me of the members in No Joy where it is sweet, yet dreamy and distorted at the same time over guitar layers, reminiscent of Ride. However, this is problematic because the chorus is not dramatic in order to reel in the listener. This is the only reservation that I had with “I’ll Never Go There Again.”
Perhaps the track on Jupiter that sets it apart from the rest of the album is “Heartbeat.” This track is an oddly upbeat tune that reminded me of their debut album, Aloha Moon. The guitar styling has shades of Slowdive, but that’s the only positive aspect about this track. Unfortunately, the lyrics lack substance and are redundant in that they don’t elude any purpose. A majority of “Heartbeat” has the lines of “You may be missing what I need” with unnecessary repeating, and “There is just one thing that seems to haunt me.” I would have liked to see Magic Wands take time with the lyrics and create a memorable story line.
The album ends in an odd fashion with a thirteen-minute instrumental track called “Jupiter II.” As if this album wasn’t painful enough to listen to in its entirety, and now I’m unpleasantly surprised with this waste of recording space. The duration of “Jupiter II” is guitar pedals in one key. The song doesn’t evolve into anything epic. “Jupiter II” is definitely a filler track and doesn’t compliment the shoegaze nature of the rest of “Jupiter.”
Magic Wands are currently enduring the aforementioned “sophomore slump” that plagues numerous young bands on Jupiter. This album lacks the vivaciousness and pizzazz that was evident on Aloha Moon. Plus, Dexy’s voice is not utilized on Jupiter to its full capability, which is a shame because she is really talented. Magic Wands would have benefited from a producer and/or another third party voice in order to hone their songs and create space for the songs to mature. As for me, listening to Jupiter was like reading a boring college text book. Hopefully for their next album, Magic Wands bring their lessons learned into the next recording cycle and create something that is listenable.